Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Shards of Memory - Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Difficulty in recognizing who’s telling the story (I never figured this out), too many characters (every one of them odd), no focus (what’s this all about?), and for the first hundred pages the characters don’t come to life (wooden, or, in the case of the Master, contrived; I never accepted the power he had over people). Then Henry is in a car accident and becomes a cripple. Suddenly everybody is set into motion – they seem to have life breathed into them. The late-blooming love between Baby and Graeme is poignant, and I wanted the relationship between Henry and Vera to work. So I cared. But, still, the author never had full control of her material; at the end she leaves all sorts of important matters unresolved. Much is missing in this novel; but of what’s there, some is quite effective.

The Grandmothers - Glenway Wescott
Although I’m interested in pioneer life, I abandoned this novel at the halfway point because it annoyed and bored me. A poet living in Europe is recalling his youth; as a boy he was obsessively (and implausibly) interested in his family. He tells their stories. One after another they line up – here’s Great-Aunt Nancy, here’s Great-Uncle Leander – and the poet, with his great power of perception, enters the consciousness of each. It rang false – and pretentious. Also, there’s a fussy tidiness about the book – the perfect prose, the lives proceeding in a stately way from youth to old age and death. This book has a premise of authenticity, but I think the author was deluding himself. At age twenty-six Wescott hadn’t yet found his true subject, nor his voice.

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner - James Hogg
Hogg was born in1770; the brooding, feverish way he deals with religious matters sprang from a mind foreign to us. His main character believes that he’s been chosen by God, before time began, to be one of the anointed. Thus he can do no wrong. What is the nature of this Chosen One? Robert is morally corrupt, despicable in every way. After being told the expected news of his anointment, a strange young man attaches himself to Robert; we soon realize that he’s the devil. They commit terrible acts. At the end redemption comes to Robert in the form of suffering; he’s wracked by doubts, besieged by demons, shunned by all humans. He’s in hell. This can be seen as a critique of religion – or, rather, religious fanaticism. However, it goes on too long; my fascination turned to distaste. I wanted to be free of the craziness. Yet I persisted to the last dismal page. An ugly book, almost repulsive. Amen.

No comments: